Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A letter to my communities.

I have never met Chrishaun “CeCe” Mcdonald personally, but I feel a very strong connection to her. I don’t know CeCe’s back-story and I can never claim a full understanding of what the world looks like from her perspective as a Black, transgender woman. What I can understand is the interconnectedness of her oppressions and mine, our shared humanity.

I heard about CeCe after reading an article in the Star Tribune (http://www.startribune.com/local/minneapolis/123777049.html).

The author has a history of misrepresenting transgender and gender non-conforming folks in their articles. Their representation of CeCe was no different. The article relied heavily on shock value (in the vein of Jerry Springer). It did not identify CeCe as a woman but as a “man becoming a woman”, while implying a degree of criminality and untrustworthiness. It questioned her character. The article represented CeCe in a way that simultaneously implied a reason to suspect her of having an inherent criminality –a stereotype suggesting trans folks are deviant— while separating the violence she has experienced from the violence that other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folk experience. In effect, CeCe has been portrayed as guilty, deserving (or at least responsible for the violence she has experienced) and dehumanized as we are told we can’t directly identify with her.

CeCe Mcdonald was attacked on June 5th while walking by the Schooner Tavern on Lake Street. She did not know her attackers. CeCe’s race and her inability to pass as her attackers’ definition of a “woman”, is credited as having been the motivation.

I don’t know whether CeCe is “guilty” or “innocent” and I don’t mean to argue one way or the other. My intention is to make clearer to LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) identified folks that the violence CeCe has experienced from those who assaulted her, and most likely will experience within the criminal legal system, is not different from how the larger LGBTQ communities experience homophobic/heterosexist violence. I empathize with the family of Dean Schmitz, as this has without a doubt been a deep loss for them. However, I cannot say that I am upset that Dean Schmitz is no longer with us as I too have been verbally and physically assaulted by folks quite like him, folks who take it upon themselves to make this world feel safe for some while feeling incredibly dangerous for others. That Dean Schmitz is no longer here means that there is one less person in this world who would inflict harm on those I love and myself.

I am a cisgender male. This means I was biologically assigned as male since birth, and personally identify as a male. To make clearer, how I identify myself and how the larger society identifies me has never been in conflict. Because my knowledge of gender, sexuality, and race is largely informed by my identities as a gay/queer identified white male, my writing is largely intended –though not exclusive too— the experiences of a similar to myself.

What motivates me to write about CeCe is this: At present, the single largest issue for Minnesotan lesbian and gay communities (which is arguably not so prominent an issue within bisexual and transgender communities) is gay marriage. Looming on the horizon is the possibility of a statewide amendment that would define marriage as specifically between a man and a woman. I am not a proponent of marriage. Frankly, I don’t believe marriage can ever fully account for how people live and love together. Romantic interests should not be conflated with our needs to emotionally and economically support each other.

While I am not a proponent of marriage, I am a strong opponent of blatant heterosexism and the abuse of privilege and power by dominant communities and their elected officials. Unable to define who and how we love is to have a part of our humanity taken from us. This is self-determination, this is companionship, and for many of us this could mean access to numerous privileges most easily accessed by heterosexual and heteronormative couplings has been denied. A legal definition of marriage as between a man and a woman defines all relationships that differ from this model as being an unnatural mimicry, which is essentially (at least by legal definitions) non-existent. We can create our own communities, who we love and how, but we cannot have them read as legitimate since at the core of Marriage is reproduction and many of us are incapable of doing this in a fashion defined as “natural”.

Gay marriage will not help CeCe. Gay marriage will not stop the physical and verbal violence of homophobia that many of us experience every day. This is because the homophobic violence many of us experience is not the result of our relationship status (real or imagined). Rather, it is because of the interpretation AND the conflation of our sexuality and gender identities.

How does anyone know the sexuality of another person based on visual and auditory cues? Physical characteristics, mannerisms, how the person carries their body, secondary sex characteristics, dress, class, race etc. Those who deviate most from what is considered to be the “norm” experience disproportionately higher rates of verbal and physical violence. By this I mean to say that masculine and male identified gay, bi and queer men, and feminine and female identified lesbian/dyke, bi and queer women are less likely to experience violence than their gender-conforming counterparts. This is because of the perception that gender and sexuality are so closely related that the two have effectively become conflated. That many gay/queer men identify themselves as “straight acting” when what they actually mean to say is they identify as “masculine” is completely related to this. While transphobic and homophobic violence are different in many ways, I strongly believe they originate from a similar place, as the trans folks who experience the highest levels of violence are those who do not pass as the gender they identify as.

CeCe Mcdonald has had her gender identity used against her by the Star Tribune. I emphasize this because the media greatly impacts how we define events, how we understand people, how we understand history itself. While it is too late to rewrite the articles in the Star Tribune, it isn’t too late to hold the author(s) accountable for exasperating an already complicated situation. CeCe’s situation is not an isolated incident. Many LGBT persons (especially those who are working class and people of color) find themselves in increasingly vulnerable positions as they disproportionately experience homophobia and transphobia by the larger society and additionally by the police and the criminal legal system.

It is also not too late for us to demand that CeCe receive a fair trial. To repeat, I’m unsure as to whether or not CeCe is “guilty” or “innocent” of killing a person. To me this is irrelevant since I can’t “know” her guilt or innocence. However, what I can understand is the attacks on CeCe that preceded the death of Dean Schmitz. What is important to me, and I believe should be important to all folks that are LGBTQ identified persons, is that CeCe’s gender identity, her race, and her sexuality are NOT being placed on trial. That CeCe is a transgender woman is not relevant to her character. That CeCe is a transgender woman IS relevant to how she came to be verbally and physically accosted.

In recent years, LGBTQ identified folks have had their gender identities and sexualities used against them by the criminal legal system as a means of increasing their sentences (I STRONGLY recommend reading the book Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT in the United States as it extensively documents the historical specificities that have led to the current use of sexuality and gender identity as evidence for ones criminality within court cases).

In other words, what happened to CeCe could easily happen to any of us. Any LGBT person in the Twin Cities could be physically and verbally assaulted. We know this because it happens ALL the time. What makes CeCe’s situation unique is that her class and her race have made her increasingly vulnerable, as she doesn’t have access to finances to bail/bond and legal fees. That CeCe is a Black, working-class, transgender woman has not worked in her favor for demonstrating that she could very well have been acting in self defense (any questions about that should be pretty easily disputable based on the Star Tribune’s articles).

Marriage is important. Having the ability to identify and to create our own relationships and to have them recognized as legitimate is important. What is also important is that we recognize that whether gay marriage is to become legal in Minnesota will not change CeCe’s experiences. Nor will it change how many white and affluent LGBT persons experience homophobic and transphobic violence. When we are married, we still will not be able to hold our partner’s hand in the street without first thinking through whether it feels safe. Open displays of affection are conducted with far greater intention within LGBT communities for this reason. Since a large portion of society still disapproves of LGBT folks we cannot assume that legal legitimization alone will ever be enough for ANY of us. The issues that affect all of us most intimately are inexplicably linked. We can never have a LGBT Community. Our identities as informed by race, class, sexuality, gender identity, religion/spiritual beliefs, geographic position, abilities and education are FAR too numerous. We can however build communities of people that recognize the need for mutual support to actualize the full humanity of all of us. Marriage is not an endpoint for us to reach as LGBTQ persons, it is merely supplemental to all the other needs we have as human beings.

Monday, October 18, 2010

I learned the most when I stopped for a moment to listen. To believe that my contributions to space are mostly what only I can see. To recognize the city I have built around me has little structure.

There is no foundation. The steel support beams are faulty, and the leaky roof is bowing under the weight of a scrutinizing sun. What does the city need, to see the buildings raised, to kiss the sky?

The blueprint after all did say that the sky was the limit, the architects went ahead and started building without knowing fully how much this project would cost.

Active participation through listening and presence, two activities that we were told are passive, are often the most actively engaged things we can do. In retrospect, to say the city needs to be fixed is misguided. It can not be erased. What has been viewed as poor planning, inattentiveness, and impatience, is really the packing of insecurities, internalized resentment and misguided anger into the walls, the windows and the insulation; not the framework.

The city wanted to move. It has traveled in a way. Perhaps severed some connections, and burned some bridges. However, the same barriers still exist. And while the city itself has grown, it remains situated -rooted- in place, as it always has been.

Gazing outward, I recognize the buildings as something inside myself. Objects, ideas, an energy that can be shared and given to those I feel intimacy with. It is an exercise of trust that subtly draws a feeling from somewhere deep down...tears have rarely ran so silently.

The voice that wanted to express itself fully has found cracks within the walls built around it. An awareness of these walls draws attention -first- to their permeability. It is not everything that remains locked in, or locked out after all.

Mother did not trust her brother-in-law in the room alone with children, or with her. At least half of this I have been fearful others will mistakenly read off of me too. Mother never drove in another city, never strayed to far (without my father). And until hearing all this, I had not been aware of how far she had once been away from home. (And she knew it was home.) She very strongly wanted to go back, and when that want became a reality, she never wanted to leave again.

My own feelings about this place involve a pale blue, frigid cold; an endless expanse; crackling of feet on ice and snow; the absence of a recognizable soul for thousands of miles. I am afraid of being alone, and it is this fear that told me to build the city in the first place. But where to build it?

Initially, the swamp made me a drink and embraced me -naked- with a soft fur, beaded with sweat. This felt inviting. But when I moved closer, the tenderness seemed to give way to waste - a too small apartment, unwashed sheets, and a stench I could never wash clean. The swamp was unfamiliar and hostile.

The ocean and mountains called, and it was not the first time I heard them. It was the first time I moved for myself (fully). It was here that a sense of pride found itself intelligible. But I did not really speak their language. (To this day I wonder if I really ever tried.) Originally learning how seemed too expensive, too risky. But now, those reasons become more and more uncertain to me. Spring comes and I fly to meet them, still wondering what our relationship would look like if we could just listen to each other.

The prairie has always felt the most safe. The plains know my sounds; the woods here guide me, and the lakes and rivers reflect back to me a serenity I know I have, but need to see up close to believe in. The understanding of horizon, the bitter cold of winter, the sweet sex of summer, the thunder and the wind howling through the gaps of high rising visions for myself...its all so very necessary. Because here I am, after all. What is so scary about seeing the curvature of the earth? Or the rings around the moon? What, of all of this, is so haunting that it would lead me repeatedly to lands end? What, of all of this, has made so unrecognizable the things I associate with home?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Internalized homophobia

I'm posting this with the hope that it will spark a conversation, it is unfinished:

I moved to Olympia Washington when I was 21, to flee New Orleans and to lick my wounds after a rough break up. My reasons for moving to Olympia had been to become the riot grrrl I had always known I was and to meet other weirdo queer punk rocker kids like myself (of course, it helped that my best friend was offering me a place to live for free, until I got on my feet). It was in Olympia that I learned more about my own sexuality. More specifically, that my body was something that could harbor a sexual energy, to attract others (or charm) by embodying sexuality. Prior to this, everyone I had sex with I was either already, or soon afterwards, in a monogamous relationship with. While I couldn’t procreate, I could at least maintain some level of respectable sexuality by only sleeping with someone I “loved”. I was an out gay male, but I wouldn’t say I was proud. I wasn’t visible with a “fuck you”, I was visible because I needed a community to find me and it was the only way I knew how.

It was in Olympia that I learned how to fuck. This isn’t to say I had a positive conception of sexuality though. I learned about “queer” around this time, it resonated with me and I felt –and still feel- it is a more accurate description of my own identity. I didn’t identity with the larger, capital G-A-Y community for a lot of reasons. After having moved to the city expecting to find others “like me” I had failed. In retrospect, I perhaps just didn’t know where to look. I had been successful in finding the punk rock dyke community at shows, but did not find a similar community of gay/queer men in New Orleans.

While I didn’t realize it at the time, I still had not reconciled a lot of what I had learned about homosexuality (that being that it is wrong) therefore, my identification as queer came before my rejection of my own internalized homophobia. That being stated, I learned how to fuck as a queer male before I learned to have a positive self-image, a positive sexuality, and to love myself as a gay man.

I slept with people, a lot of them. I maintained close friendships with queer women and straight people while distancing myself from most gay/queer men. Aside from a small number of gay male friends, most of my interactions occurred in the gay bar and almost always, my intention was for these conversations to head directly from the bar, after last call of course, to the bedroom. I slept with people because it was an easy way to feel intimacy, to feel a connection, without having to establish a relationship with other people or myself. I never let anyone I had sex with get to close to me. Most of them I never talked to again, and almost as often, never remembered their name. By having sex with a person, I was marking my relationship with them as temporary. If asked, I explained my distance from gay men as an avoidance of drama, and competitiveness, I didn’t have patience for either, I said. I always used a condom for penetrative sex but even so, I believe it’s miraculous I didn’t contract any STI’s.

I rarely, if ever, talked about my sex life. For me, sex was something to have as often as possible, but only behind closed doors. It wasn’t beautiful, or something to be ascribed with meaning, it was a need to be met, impersonal. Sex wasn’t a connector, it was a divider. I was taught this by my interactions with the broader society.

Sex is gross and should be private; this is what I believed in the back of my mind. If you must have sex, you should do so for reproduction, for a purpose. You should abstain until marriage if you’re a girl, but wrack up experience if you’re a boy training to be a man. Of course, its ok in larger US society to have sex and not conceive a child, but you should do so with one person and you should be in love with them. It is because of this that I agree with Judith Butler referring to public displays of affection, being visibly married, and having children, as socially acceptable acts of public sex. There is no secret when a married couple walks down the street, hand in hand, who they are sleeping with. Likewise there are no secrets as to how babies come to be. The problem I have isn’t with public sex. My problem is with how my sexuality is rendered invisible, undesirable and unnecessary by suggesting the desirability and naturalness of heteronormative sexuality. Sexuality is still read as being dirty by the general public, the difference is that sexuality is read as occurring when someone embodies a sexuality that is not heteronormative. All heteronormative sexuality is read as neutral and NOT sexual. If you are polyamorous, or into bdsm, queer sex, or sex just for the purpose of you are marked as being sexual but if you are married with children and financially independent, you are not sexual. It is because of this that I still feel uncomfortable holding hands with someone of the same sex in public.

My sexual promiscuity was not empowering. By sleeping with gay men and not befriending them, I was separating my mind from my body and myself from a community that could have been supportive to me. I denied any meaning that could be construed from physical touch, my body felt alien to me, and (unsurprisingly) I was incredibly depressed. While this experience is personal, I don’t doubt for a second that other people share similar experiences. I don’t doubt that the increased rates of STI infections (especially hiv seroprevelance rates), and chemical dependency within the gay male community, are a direct result of a learned homonegativity. I also don’t doubt that “condom fatigue” in the gay male community is related to this learned homonegativity.

Stuffing safer sex kits at Pride Alive, I hear gay/queer men loudly talking about their sexuality. We are talking about our sexualities for all in the room to hear because most of us don’t feel that we can openly talk about it in many other places. We are proclaiming our sexualities, identifying with them, sharing them, defining them as knowable, positive, beautiful, loveable and necessary. We can form a community because of our sexualities, and regardless of whether or not we are “just like” straight people, our experiences as gay/queer men are not like those of straight people because of our sexualities. This is a safer space for many of us. Safer because physical and verbal violence are far less likely to occur here, and safer because alcohol and other chemicals are not necessary to make this a space where we can comfortably discuss sex as a community. Unfortunately, this space is only able to secure the amount of funding it does by talking about gay/queer male sexualities in confined environments. We can discuss our sexualities amongst each other and believe they are beautiful, but if we talk about them publicly we are risking physical and verbal assault, and the possibility of losing safer spaces to empower ourselves through naming our sexualities if funding is cut for being too sexual (i.e. too obscene).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I Am Not Straight Acting:

I have identified as straight at various times throughout my life. Straight in response to positive feedback, when I was a teenager. Like when I was dating my first girlfriend, Jennifer, and knew in the back of my mind that I was a flaming homo, and that admitting this to anyone (my friends, myself, God), meant I would burn in hell for eternity. My sexuality was non-normative, and the bodies I desired weren’t the bodies I should. Straight-acting for purposes of safety, whether this is in Minot, or in Minneapolis.

I first experimented sexually with another person when I was 12 years old. We will call my respective party Cybill. Cybill’s parents often went to the bar for a happy hour -or four- after work, and it was often the case that she would be left at home watching her younger sisters until the next day was beginning, and most of the neighborhood was getting ready for work. To my knowledge, we had not negotiated having sex prior to this sleepover. But, not long after her two sisters had gone to bed, the discussion Cybill and I were having shifted to us both being virgins, and our desire to not be.

It’s a stretch to say that I had envisioned my first time as needing to be romantic, though it would be accurate to state that while I was still a tween, that I did understand the seriousness of what we were about to do. That being stated, we opted that mood music was necessary, drew a warm bathe, and lit candles.

Cybill undressed first, in the bathroom. Being a gentleman I left the room to allow Cybill to take off her clothes, and then climb into the tub. When she called to let me know she was ready I opened the bathroom door, shed my clothes, and settled on the opposite side of the tub facing her, the lever controlling the drain’s plug poking me in the back.

We stared into each other’s eyes before saying, or doing anything. My first concern was that I would get Cybill pregnant. “I haven’t had my period yet, so I’m not going to get pregnant”. I remained unconvinced, but resigned myself to the responsibility of pulling out before I finished so as to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.

We never had sex. Initially, I had assumed it was my own anxiety, but the following day, in retrospect, I came to think of this as being the clarity I needed in order to know that my sexuality was truly not going to take the same shape as my peers.

Even before I was aware of my attraction to men, it had been assumed that I was a “faggot” or at least a “sissy”; that is what the bullies called me on the playground. I’ve always been “effeminate” since I was little. This started with a love for Rainbow Brite and the Care Bears, and when I grew older, turned into a love of the choir, ballet, and gymnastics –I was involved with all three.

Many queer men I know have similar stories of being the sissy, and being read as effeminate. Effeminacy is read as being masculinity’s opposite, just as heterosexual is read as being homosexuality’s opposite. Assuming that is the case, a queer male, being inverted sexually, is predisposed to femininity. Meanwhile, straight men are predisposed to masculinity. This perceived unnaturalness of homosexual femininity is completely misogynist, as masculinity is largely privileged over femininity in most spheres. Being read as effeminate becomes undesirable for many gay men, which results in a desire to identify as simultaneously not (too) gay, and not (too) feminine.

Femininity has a bad rap. When queer, cisgendered men are bashed, it is rarely because of their perceived sexuality, but because of their gender expressions being read as effeminate. I believe because of this that many gay men have a negative self image and distance themselves from effeminate expressions and those they perceive as being as effeminate –no sissies, no femmes.

This hardly seems to me as having a type of guy you are attracted to, as it is about internalized homophobia and misogyny that has gone unchecked.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In an Empire State of Mind

This essay is about multiple bodies operating as one cohesive unit in order to serve a communal -as opposed to an individual function-, and going to the sleeziest gay bar I have ever been to.

On my trip to New York I found myself, upon the recommendation of a friend, at a bar called the Cock. The Cock is generally described as being one of the cruisiest gay bars in NYC. Not surprisingly, it is dimly lit. It is actually so dimly lit, that it is often difficult to make out the face of who you are looking at, and at times, is even hard to tell the shape of the body in front of you until you are touching it, or it is touching you.

This bar is different from other cruise bars, because it isn’t about what type of body you are attracted to. Instead, the attention is completely redirected from individual persons, to the actions shared with these persons. To elaborate more: generally, you would find someone aesthetically appealing to you, and then attempt to lure them off to a location with more privacy –be that a dark corner in the bar, or maybe an apartment.

At the Cock, the entire bar is a dark corner. You shed your individual identity when you enter the room. You are still a body, but you largely become an unknowable body. Because the bar is loud, and so dark you can’t see in large portions of it, senses of seeing and hearing are shut down. You can still feel however, so body language becomes your sole means of communication.

Shortly after arriving at the Cock, I learned how to properly cruise in this environment. Since I couldn’t rely on drawing someone in with how I look, or let them know I was interested in them through eye contact, I forced my way through the mass of flesh in front of me, to the most crowded section of the room (a midpoint between the bathroom and coat check). Once here, I found that what I needed to do was stand in place, allowing the bodies migrating to and fro -on all sides of me-, to touch, poke, and prod any part of me that they want; consent then, is largely implied by entering the room.

We could call this passive prowling I suppose. I am a sleepy lion, hiding in a thicket of gay male bodies, waiting for you to notice me and explicitly express your attraction, so I can respond (or pounce). Sadly, this isn’t much different from how I generally interact in gay bars.

My “efforts” worked. In fact, at one point in the evening I had two bodies drawn toward me at the same time. The body in front of me was far shorter than I would have liked, and their hand was very hastily trying to find its way inside my pants, toward my crotch. Behind me, another body belonging to a youngish bear cub homed in –this one I was attracted to. The cub’s hand was hastily trying to find its way inside my pants, toward my ass. I have never found myself in a position like this. Even verbal communication would be tricky, I believe. How do you –verbally OR non-verbally- communicate your attraction to one person, while simultaneously communicating that you are not attracted to another?

At a complete loss for words, I girated my hips backward while stepping to the side so as to convey my interest to one party, while distancing myself to the other. The result? I had opened the floodgates. The two bodies collided with each other full force, their limbs flopping everywhere. It was almost as if they hadn’t even known I was there. How carnal.

I remember when I was a little kid and would play with magnets. I loved taking the really strong ones you could buy in a pack of 4 at the hardware store, the kind of magnets that could attract or repel each other through our hardwood table –my mother still has this table. In this situation I was the table, and the two bodies –the one I was attracted to being the positive charged body, and the one I was not attracted to being the negative- were very strongly attracted to each other. When I left the picture, these two bodies propelled toward each other so violently they were carried further into the dark, out of sight. I stood there, sipping my gin and tonic, in their wake.

It didn’t appear that many people left The Cock with anyone. At the same time, it didn’t seem that anyone was getting off in the bar, as paid security was always present, pushing their way through the crowd, flashlights hanging at crotch level, voices snarling over top of the music. “Watch your fucking hands!”, they would say or, “Check your wallets!”.

The experience was surreal to me for two reasons. One it wasn’t about physical contact with a knowable individual. The contact you received was largely from persons you could not see. Second, because the end point for most people did not seem to be about having an orgasm. In this case then, I see the bar as providing strong drinks at a cheap price, and filthy cuddling to a beat. New York will not be lonely tonight.

I lured another man over. A bulky person by the name of Troy, he was from Queens. “Girl…you looking all sweet and innocent, but I-CAN-SEE-RIGHT-THROUGH-YOU. And you are a S-L-U-T!” We started making out hardcore after he said that, I have never felt more alive.

Monday, December 28, 2009

On refusing to be a man.

I remember going on a trip to Theodore Roosevelt National Park when I was 11 years old with my father and my brother. There was a lot of hiking, and passing down of information from father to sons. After an intense climb my brother and I were hanging near the edge of a cliff when he suddenly lifted me up by my ankles, and dangled me over the edge. Looking down at the ravine below, I saw my life flashing before my eyes; the drop was at least 100 feet down. My dad, laughing, pulled out the camera to document this moment. He would later put this in a family photo album. The following Christmas when my sister came home for break from school, we were looking at the photos. She laughed at the picture of my brother and I in the North Dakota Badlands, “Male bonding!” she said.

Male bonding is always something I have had difficulty with. For as long as I can remember, I have gotten along better with women than men. Perhaps because of this stronger identification with women, I have come to find that identities such as “guy”, “boy”, and “male” resonate with me, but I have never felt comfortable with the identify of “man”. My gender identity embodies masculinity, while it is conflicted with the privileges associated with manliness. In situations where –mostly straight- men are the majority, I have often felt uncomfortable because I feel there is a competition. Playful or not, I have repeatedly seen this power struggle play out.

“Man” is not natural or inherent. It is political and infused with power; one is not born a “man”, one BECOMES a “man” –this is a reference to Simone de Beauvoir. If “man” were naturally occurring and not a social construction, then it would not be necessary to bestow upon someone as a rite of passage. “Man” would be a category we become with age, not an identity that the greater society oversees and declares real or not real, depending on who and how “man” is embodied.

“Man” is not a stable category. In this way, “man” is not much different from other categorical identities, in that there is no one-way to be a “man”. “Man”, historically, has shifted to meet the needs of the society. The idea of “man” is perhaps universal, however, the traits we associate with maleness are not.

As I stated two paragraphs ago, “man” is a political identity that exists for the accumulation of power. Many males contend with each other for the identity of “man”. The title of “man” is not permanent, and once given to a person, it can be stripped away. Men compete with each other for their right to the title, and attempt to present their manliness as undeniable. The parameters of what “man” is not, are defined by what is seen to be the ‘other’ to man. This does not, however, make clear what “man” is as the traits associated with “man” do not belong to “man”. If a person’s actions exist too far out of the blurred boundaries of “man”, they will be symbolically emasculated. This renders the person as less than man, which is the “other” to man.

Guy, male, and boy are not titles I have to prove. In part, this is because of my own cisgendered privilege. To clarify: my perceived gender, and my gender identity are not in direct conflict. I almost never have to clarify my identity as male, as this identity of maleness is assumed. My identity with guy, male, and boy as opposed to “man”, is simultaneously an attempt to divest myself of male privilege, and an avoidance of the repetitive need to prove my worth as a “man”. I do not care to remake “man”. I want to destroy it.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Coming Out Again: I Will Feel no Shame in my Desire

I came out as a gay male fairly early, having been 15 years old when I came out to my friends, and 17 years old when I came out to my family. I came out again at 24 as queer, having discovered that the identity of gay was reductive, defining me solely by who I slept with. Queer resonated with me in a way that gay couldn’t. For clarity, I came out as queer because gay male “culture” doesn’t make room for me under its all-encompassing rainbow banner. My identity as queer allows me a means of combining a fluctuating gender identity, punk rock, and an attraction to simularily sexed bodies.
Coming out is a constant process. By simply opening my closet door, I am not ensuring that it will always stay open. I will have to constantly revisit this closet, whether that is for clarification of my identity to someone who doesn’t know or understand. Also, I will come out in various contexts. Sometimes I will be “out” for all to see, while at other times I will intentionally revisit the closet for safety –as was the case when I was walking down the street with a lover and three hetero hyper-machismo males were threatening us. I am learning to befriend the closet, to know it better. That is, to know not only the ways in which my life will always be lived in a world that has a closet, but also to know what other parts of my identity are closeted, and how to unleash them.
I want to come out of the closet to further elaborate what bodies I desire. I believe that the desiring of certain bodies is constructed. To be clear, I am not sold on the idea of gender or sexuality as being so malleable and fluid, as to be changed at will. I do not believe that we exist prior to a gendered subjectivity, nor do I believe that our sexuality is something that we have complete control over. However, I do believe that how we articulate our sexuality, and sometimes who we express ourselves with sexually, to be shaped in large part by societal norms, values, and expectations. I would like to come out as a chubby chaser and a bear hunter.
I love fur, and additional padding. I am not simply looking for a good heart inside this furry, chubby body to demonstrate that I am not shallow, that it is what is on the inside and not the outside that counts. What I mean to suggest is that I am attracted to the body, the mind, and the heart. In my book all body types matter –I’m referencing Judith Butler here.
I love the energy in bear bars, though, to be honest I am a little turned off by the hyper-masculine machismo that one often will find at Eagle bars across the country. I am very much so attracted to the bodies and the queered masculinities in these spaces. This is to draw a line of differentiation between machismo and masculinity. Machismo as domineering, existing in such a fashion as to exclude femmes of all persuasions –femmes of all body types, sexes and genders. Masculinity, in stark contrast, has nothing to prove. It is gentle, kind, and welcoming in a way that allows room for many gender expressions to exist. It allows masculinity and femininity to belong to no one and to belong to everyone. It is a masculinity that nurtures. It is masculinity we can envision as needing to be saved from the patriarchy.
This second coming out is necessary to me because being seeped in a culture that is body-negative, one learns not only that fat and fur are undesirable to have as your attributes, but that fat and/or hairy bodies should be undesirable sexually too. Chub chasers and bear hunters become perverse fetishists in this context as they are non-normative in their desire, and the people they are attracted to are viewed as occupying the bodies they do out of laziness, bad decisions, or spite. To elaborate, I mean to say that if you are fat and/or furry it could be interpreted as lazy because you are not “maintaining” yourself to a societal standard of what a “healthy” body looks like. By bad decisions I mean that your personal health is negatively affected because of your diet, and the feelings of disgust toward your body by body-negative persons, is then somehow deserved because you had the option of being “healthy” and “attractive” and tragically chose to be neither. And last, by “spite” I mean to suggest that queer fat guys and bears exist as a means of resistance, not only to the predominant heteronormative culture which finds queer love disgusting, but also by the homonormative mainstream gay community that revels in the stereotypes of gay men as fashionable, and fit –fuck you queer eye for the straight guy.
My sexuality has largely been constructed by the acceptance of my peers. And a second coming out as a chub chaser and a bear hunter is a means of feeling no shame in my desire inside the bedroom, or outside. I am not writing this for a pat on the back for having an attraction to the desexualized, and by wanting to love the fetishized. My purpose is simply to articulate that it has been a process to resolve the conflicts of who I desire and who I am told to desire.